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Vol. 2 No. 3 Apr 2003

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Entering Beauty, Entering Art
Anaglyphs crafts metaphor of desire for beauty

By Cyril Wong

Artwork by Khiew Huay Chien
Dance Choreography by Daniel Kok
28 Mar 2003, The Substation

Once you step into the spartan gallery with its bright white walls and its fluorescent lighting, your attention will be caught up at once by the rectangular sheets of plastic suspended from high steel cords nailed from one wall to another. On them are impressionistic renderings of figures caught in various states of motion not only upon the plastic sheets, but also on the walls; captured colorfully and imaginatively imprecise in their rendering so as to highlight exactly the very grace and transitory nature of bodily movement, as well as to complement the choreographed activity of the performers. The movable sheets are hung in sets of threes so as to create variable overlapping effects when the sheets slide along each other, hence alluding to the idea of the anaglyph and of an image formed by the layering of dissimilar perspectives.

The audience is asked to stand on either end of the longish gallery, so to fully appreciate the cumulative effect of the painted figures coming into perspective, in line with the actual performers. The four dancers clad minimally in white pants or tights and different coloured tops begin the performance by sliding the sheets of plastic along the cords to create the illusion of a partition between each dancer, as well as between the dancers and the audience on either end of the performance space. A private space for each performer between the plastic sheets provides the intimate stage for each dancer, which they begin to traverse by taking a calculated, introductory walk about their own spaces. As the performance progresses, the dancers would begin to step in and out of each other’s designated spaces. The audience views the dancer through the painted impressions of figures frozen in motion. It could be a more profound moment except for the lack of discernible purpose in the dancers’ movement which converts a simple act of walking into an act of beauty and art.

And the walk does enter beauty, enter art. The movements become gradually more elaborate. Feet rising to balance on toes, head bent low then tilted back, an arm moving as if without intent to elbow the air, then extending involuntarily like the flick of a penknife away from the dancer. Even the most awkward gestures are breathtaking when done with the perfect combination of fullest intent and a calculated elegance. Daniel Kok himself is the best example of this successful combination during each event of every choreographed gesture or completed posture. The other three dancers – one other male, the rest female – only had rare flashes of such moments of brilliance in their movements. Sometimes, the need to simply look beautiful when executing such movements hampered these dancers’ performances, as their movements only came across as almost lazy and reluctant during such instances.

The music was an atmospheric techno loop (designed by Aphex Twin) with a ghostly female voice singing three rising notes again and again that went on and on for the twenty-three minutes’ duration of the performance. Hypnotic and emotionally charged, the music with its hard and dirty beats supported the choreography by providing it with not only an adrenalin edge but also a seriously aching mournfulness. Together with the occasional strobe and coloured lights, the conventions and the heady mood of club-culture were evoked. It is in clubs where the body is transformed, allowed to shed its invisible restraints of social etiquette, made free to unrepress itself. The body becomes even more beautiful on the dance floor, with the allowances to engage in a more primal way with musical rhythms. Dancer in the dark of our inhibitions. Dance becomes, in Anaglyphs, a complicated metaphor not just for that Freudian need for repressed desires to burst through cracks of the unconscious, but specifically that this desire is one for beauty. The frozen figures on the plastic is the dream of death in accordance with Freud’s Pleasure Principle. In this case, a death in becoming one with beauty, the beauty of bodily grace within the context of dance.

As in Melatonin, Kok’s earlier work, the dancers gather tightly together so as to fall into a group dynamic here as well, although it felt as if this was done out of sheer variation rather than for any meaningful symbolism, which was the case in Melatonin, where dancers manoeuvering in and out of the tight spaces between themselves hinted at the politics of human interaction and communication. What was interesting, however, in Anaglyphs, was that after the dancers left each other to return to their own designated spaces in between the rows of plastic sheets, it looked like the dancers were executing almost the same moves, except this time their previously physical intimacy becomes a figurative one when seen through the eyes of the audience on each end of the gallery.

Other fine moments in Anaglyphs consisted of dancers mirroring each other, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes with a delay of split-seconds between them, which highlighted more than effectively the theme of performance in a direct and exciting way. I would have preferred if they had moved the plastic sheets more during the performance, as the sound of the sheets dragging along the metal cords created an interesting noise that could have overlapped nicely with key moments in the music, allowing not only for visual anaglyphs, but aural ones as well.

The performance ended powerfully with the music dying off abruptly while a lone female dancer (the others are now standing to one side watching her, becoming the audience themselves) in the centre of the gallery tucked in between rows of transparent painted figures executes a series of gestures that appear to be a take on states of resistance and aggression (two fists thrusting upwards on either side of her head while the upper half of her body jerks to one side). She also repeats the motif of looking away at the same time as certain gestures, whether to one side, up, or down at the floor, a hint at the restricted possibilities of the individual gaze, the limited nature of any point of view. A celebration of this limitation, perhaps. The strobe lights flash and flicker out, illuminating all the painted impressions that suddenly act as reflections of the movements that have occurred in reality, serving as memory or tribute to the energy and actual human effort of movement as art.

QLRS Vol. 2 No. 3 Apr 2003


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  Other Extra Media articles in this Issue

A Sour View From The Top
Richard Lord reviews Top Girls.

We Lost It At The Movies
Richard Lord reviews Popcorn.

Pas de Deux For Lonely Singles
Richard Lord reviews Modern Dance for Beginners and Confessions of Three Unmarried Women.

Almost Spiritual Exercise
Susan Tsang reviews “Dreams and Portents”.

Related Links

Dance calendar
External link to the National Arts Council.

Creating anaglyphs
External link.


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